French soprano Natalie Dessay may not be the first artist that comes to mind when you think of singers that are at home in the art song, but in her recent album, Clair de lune, she departs from her usual opera roles for a recital of songs by Claude Debussy. Pianist Philippe Cassard joins Natalie Dessay for her premiere song recording on a major label and a tribute to the 150th anniversary of Claude Debussy’s birth.
Known for her stratospheric range and compelling conviction as a singing actress, Dessay’s voice has many of the same characteristics as soprano, Marie Vasnier, the object of Debussy’s affection who served as both the muse and dedicatee for his early songs. With Vasnier’s high voice in mind, Debussy didn’t hesitate to let his pen drift above the staff in songs like Rondel chinois where a voice like hers or Dessay’s is able to shine.
Through Clair de lune Dessay and Cassard reflect on Debussy’s lifelong obsession with poetry and literature. The CD features four world premiere recordings including music set to Maurice Bouchor’s Le Matelot qi tombe à l’eau, and Romance. Dessay and Cassard are joined by mezzo-soprano Karine Deshayes and the Le jeune chœur de Paris for La Damoiselle élue; a nearly nineteen minute oratorio where Debussy’s impressionistic style is palpable. The album’s namesake is not the reflective and still movement from Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque, but a song that captures Paul Verlaine’s poem, Clair de lune.